Google’s Big Win in Europe: “Right to be forgotten” Only Applies in European Union Countries

The right to be forgotten came into law through a 2014 legal ruling by the European Court of Justice, and required search engines to delete links to embarrassing or out-of-date information, when requested by the individuals concerned. The 2014 ruling came about after a Spanish man failed to secure the deletion of an embarrassing auction notice of his repossessed home dating from 1998 on a Spanish website.

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As a result, individuals in EU member states can demand that search engines not show search results containing old information about them when their privacy rights outweigh the public’s interest in having continued access to the information. Of course, not all demands are granted.

For example, if you live in the EU you can ask Google to remove links to news pages about your old arrest, to embarrassing court records, or to old social media posts. Although the content itself remains online, it cannot be found through online searches of the individual’s name.

As a result of the ruling in 2016 Google introduced a geo-blocking feature, which stopped European users from being able to see delisted links. However, it resisted censoring search results for people in other parts of the world, causing it to face fines.

But in a HUGE win for Google and other search engines, in September 2019, the European court of justice said search engine operators are not obligated to remove information outside the 28-country European Union zone.

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Won’t Internet users in the EU just search the Google pages in non-EU countries using methods like Virtual Private Networks or VPNs? The European court of justice merely said search engines must “seriously discourage” internet users from using non-EU versions of their pages to find that information.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation called the ruling a “significant victory for free speech rights.” As the EFF explained, a global delisting order would conflict with the rights of users in other nations, including U.S. users protected by the  Amendment. The First Amendment also protects the rights of individuals to gather information to create expressions, petitions, and assemblies.

What do you think? Should search engines be required to delist links to help people avoid embarrassment? Or does this censor important news and information?

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